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Sometime in May of this year the SEIU started work on organizing the employees at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's flagship hospitals, UPMC Presbyterian, Montifiore and Shadyside. Notices of meetings at the nearby Hilton appeared on the locker room door, and unusual employee meetings began to take place at work. I figured I might as well go and see what all the fuss was about. Follow below the orange squiggle of DKos to learn more...

Before continuing, I feel the need to fill in some background information. I started working at UPMC in 2007. Like many things in this town, it's more a matter  of who you know than what you know. I happened to know the then manager of the Kosher Kitchen at Montefiore, and his wife was kvetching to my wife about how he had unreliable help in the kitchen, so one thing led to another and I started there as a temp working full time hours. Some months passed, and changes were announced - they were closing the Kosher Kitchen. My manager was demoted to team leader status and given a position helping the tray line at Montefiore, and, in a stroke of good luck, a position was found for me in the Presby cafeteria. I was now a grill cook, with benefits! (The benefits were most important, we were paying almost $1200/month in COBRA from my wife's last job with benefits...) I started this position on 8/18/2008.

So what have I learned to date? In the mandatory employee meetings held by management, I have learned how willing they are to get input from their workers, and of all the great ways UPMC has been using their "excess revenues", how they will look into issues like raises, PTO time, break and locker rooms and how all of this will change if we "join" the union. The "union" is always talked about in some sort of strange, third-person way that suggests a foreign body invading and taking over the hospital and stripping us of our current rights and benefits and leaving us bereft of both jobs and benefits since we will be continually on strike. In other words, I've learned that the current management will say or do almost anything to prevent this union from getting started.

The union meetings at the Hilton, on the other hand, have been enlightening, fun and encouraging. I have learned that with the $750 million in "excess revenues" that UPMC could do many things to benefit their frontline workers. I haven't been able to really crunch the numbers, but free healthcare and substantial pay increases seem intuitively reasonable. I would hate to have to do the math to find out how much of UPMC's "excess revenues" can be attributed to the employee contributions from payroll deductions, deductibles and co-pays. Should I get hurt at work, it's $75 to be seen at the ER at Presby, yet there is not even a first aid kit anywhere in the kitchen. I've taken to carrying my own small stash of band-aids and some first aid supplies in my locker. I've also learned that the top-tier management got a minimum 10% raise last year, with the maximum raise of 49% going to the CEO Romoff, who now pulls down a nice $6,000,000/year salary. This definitely conjures images of the 99 vs. 1% dichotomy so nicely framed by the OWS movement.

I've also learned that UPMC has hired Labor Relations Institute, at a cost of $3000/day for each consultant on site. Really good way to spend those non-profit "excess revenues", UPMC! Must be nice work, if you can get it :-) This could all be very interesting in light of the recent PA Supreme Court ruling that took power away from our bloated legislature and returned the decisions on public charities tax-exempt status to the Courts. Looks like no matter what happens, the next few years will be good for the lawyers in this state... What is surprising to me is that even with the expensive consultants, the managers continue to do things that are, if not completely illegal, tread right on the borderline. Just today I spoke with a nice young lawyer from the union about a polling incident that happened to me one morning. There were witnesses, and I'm giving names and affidavits and whatever it takes. And I didn't lie, either - told the boss that I would hate to be seen as insubordinate, and that I was for the union. Come what may, I have nothing to fear so long as I show up, do my job, tell the truth and maintain my honor.

What I do fear is that the union busting tactics of the LRI and UPMC are having an effect on our efforts to organize. What looked so promising in the first couple of meetings, all the people, the familiar faces of co-workers, the enthusiasm, are quickly fading in the Summer heat. I've been taking PTO time this past week, so I've missed a lot of the "hand-washing" meetings, and since I've declared myself pro-union, I may get to watch the line by myself. But what the hell, I'm a grill cook, the hardest job in the whole cafeteria. I'm not scared of having to work a bit harder to organize the UPMC union.

Please forgive my excessive rambling! This is my first diary, and I've been waiting a week to spill the beans, so to speak :-) Not sure how long I can stay up to watch the comments roll in, but I'm honestly not expecting an avalanche of activity tonight. Below are some more links to this movement from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which I was unable to weave into my diatribe.

UPMC nonclinical staff pursue union
Sen. Jim Ferlo joins UPMC unionizing effort

Originally posted to Ironic Chef on Wed Jun 20, 2012 at 09:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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